Thunderbird Park at the Royal British Columbia Museum
Victoria is my favourite city in the province because it is also one of the most historical places in the province. At Victoria the heritage of colonial England meets with the heritage of the First Nations peoples, and the result is always either charming or spectacular. In the latter category would be the First Nations and the heritage galleries on the third floor of the Royal British Columbia Museum. This was only my second visit to the museum, and my first as an adult. The museum has a very generous photography policy: photography is permitted anywhere except in the First Nations gallery on the third floor. The image above shows what is known as Thunderbird Park, just in front of the museum complex.
If at Victoria we can see the heritage of two peoples coming together, this is even more so at the museum. In the museum, there was one special artefact that I was delighted to find: the totem pole used on the reverse of the commemorative 1958 silver dollar, a focal point for my interests in Canadian intercultural history and numismatics. (For an interesting read on that dollar, see the Canadian Numismatic Association‘s journal 2004 vol. 49.3 “Canada’s Death Dollar.”) The totem pole, which was housed in a glass case adjacent to the bookshop and not on the third floor, is shown below, with an accompanying description on the sign, and an early photograph that was used as the basis for the coin design. Please click on the thumbnails to enlarge the photographs.
The commemorative coin, shown below, was designed by a Hungarian immigrant named Stephen Trenka. Its purpose was to commemorate the consequences of the 1858 gold rush, when a sharp influx of gold miners, many of them Americans from California, prompted the British government to assert sovereignty by formally designating the mainland the “Crown Colony of British Columbia.” This happened in 1858, and the colony merged with the colony of Vancouver Island in 1866. It must be a uniquely Canadian irony that the commemoration of a British government act in response to an onslaught of American migrant workers would be designed by a Hungarian immigrant using an already-historical photograph of a beautiful First Nations design that had nothing to do with the gold rush itself!
The gold rush, as I learned at the museum, was instrumental in the development of the province. I think it also accounts for BC’s reputation as the “most Americanized province in Canada.” During the 19th century there were literally thousands of American workers in the area, so this cultural tidbit should not really be surprising.
The next few photographs show what was my favorite part of the museum, the gold rush exhibit (which was also where the MacDonald Bank money issues photographed in a previous post were located). The first shows the scales of Billy Barker, after whom Barkerville was named. Billy Barker died penniless in Victoria. The second picture shows a miner’s certificate, while the third shows some of the other exhibits associated with the goldrush days.
The final picture shows one of the more famous parts of the museum, the old-style film theatre where one can see literally hours of Charlie Chaplin.
The museum overall is well-worth the pricey entrance fee of $14, and I would love to go again. While I thought I detected an undesirable anti-British bias in the heritage gallery’s sign display, it was mollifying to see copies of newspaper clippings showing how various Canadian governments had tried to wipe out the potlach, for example. People were actually arrested and sentenced for having potlaches, or for taking part in them. The museum is an appropriate place for that kind of display, and such history should not go unforgotten. At the same time, as the city of Victoria shows, there is much to be proud of from our British heritage, too. All in all, the museum remains a fascinating place where one can learn much about British Columbian history.